E-mail feedback


Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


Interactive timeline, image gallery

Recall key dates, browse defining photos from six weeks of combat in Iraq. (Requires Flash)


Recent headlines

General: Iraqi troops improve

January 26, 2005

Parties waging a polite battle to control Najaf

January 25, 2005

In Iraq, the question is: To vote or not to vote

January 25, 2005

Politics popular in Shiite areas

January 20, 2005


Also on the Web

Dispatches from Iraq

Special coverage and photo galleries of American troops serving in Iraq from The Honolulu Advertiser.

Iraq In-Depth

Take an interactive tour of Saddam's hide-out and capture at USATODAY.com's Iraq home page.


GNS Archive

Click here to browse more than 1,000 Iraq war news stories from the front lines and the home front.



Friday, November 7

Iraq woes, overtaxed troops challenge pre-emption strategy

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - President Bush's doctrine of pre-emption, which thrust almost 300,000 Americans into an increasingly controversial and violent $164 billion war in Iraq, has gone into hiding.

At least temporarily.

Pre-emption is the philosophy that says do unto threats, including governments, before they do unto you.

Understandably it was a lot more popular immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks than it is now.

Gone from presidential speeches is the blustery rhetoric about regime change while the paladins of pre-emption who wrote its white papers and spoke of ``cakewalks'' in Iraq have retreated to the conservative think tanks.

This portends either the end of the ultraconservative domination of foreign policy, or less dramatically, a breather for a president whose poll numbers have been harmed.

A recent USA TODAY-CNN-Gallup Poll showed 54 percent of Americans disapprove of President Bush's policy on Iraq - up from 41 percent three months ago.

Critics of pre-emption contend the strategy has raised the risk of terror attacks against Americans by focusing on a country that was not an imminent threat and by alienating allies in the war on terror.

They argue it's time to put away the bravado foreign policy and re-engage the international community.

``We stand at an important point in the history of our nation and the world,'' said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a leading Democrat on the intelligence committee. ``Will the United States turn away from the successful bipartisan tradition of supporting a world ordered by law, and pursue, instead, a unilateralist path?''

If Bush was convinced of an imminent danger, he would no doubt act.

But in two recent foreign policy speeches, he notably emphasized the rise of democracy in the Middle East rather than the fall of regimes there.

``Our nation is strong; we're strong of heart, and we're not alone,'' Bush said in a sweeping address to the National Endowment for Democracy that was heavy on resolve and virtually absent of the threats that characterized the Iraq war speeches. ''Freedom is finding allies in every country; freedom finds allies in every culture.''

For all his trademark go-it-alone swagger, Bush is sounding like a converted multilateralist.

Perhaps there are compelling, if practical, reasons now.

^Troop numbers

The United States maintains a policy of being able to fight two major conflicts simultaneously.

But American troops are stretched thin in Iraq and dozens of other countries, raising questions about the capacity to fight another major conflict.

What would Bush's options be if North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in the Pacific?

That was part of the reasoning behind a Pentagon plan announced Thursday to reduce forces in Iraq from 132,000 to 105,000 by May.

Plunging troop morale is also a major strategic concern. Another war would emotionally tax the already highly stressed military.

A survey of troops in Iraq published in the Stars and Stripes newspaper found that 49 percent did not plan to re-enlist, while 31 percent said the war was of little value for the United States.

``For the first time since the Vietnam War, Army troops may face back-to-back combat tours with a few weeks leave in between,'' said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a decorated Korean War veteran.

That has already started.

Some of the Marine units that helped topple Baghdad are on their way back for a second stint.

^Dubious intelligence

Failure to find any of the weapons of mass destruction, WMD, in Iraq that Bush used to justify the war has cast doubt over the highest levels of the U.S. intelligence community - the trigger of pre-emption.

The WMD vacuum has also raised questions about how the Bush administration used the intelligence it received.

``Administration officials rarely included the caveats and qualifiers attached to the intelligence community's judgments,'' said California Rep. Jane Harman, top Democrat on the intelligence committee.

In several high-profile speeches before the war, Bush and his inner circle spoke with unwavering certainty about Iraq's banned weapons and ``the grave and growing'' threat they posed.

Bush has let the CIA take most of the blame for what appear now to be a series of inflated claims. But that hasn't washed with some leading Democratic lawmakers who want to analyze how top White House officials used what the CIA gave them.

The media exposure of all this has given voters an inside look at how intelligence is gathered and analyzed, and how malleable and fallible it can be.

^Iran and North Korea

War in Iran or North Korea, both strongly suspected to be developing nuclear weapons, would each dwarf the campaign in Iraq.

Even pre-emptive surgical strikes would likely be disastrous.

Taking out nuclear facilities in Korea could trip a massive retaliation against the south.

North Korea's million-man army has 13,000 artillery emplacements capable of hitting South Korea with 300,000 shells an hour. War on the Korean Peninsula would likely claim hundreds of thousands of lives, and potentially force the United States to go nuclear.

A war against Iran with its 540,000-man army, chemical weapons and missiles is inconceivable.

Even a pre-emptive air strike against the nuclear facilities now under construction in Iran would pour more gas onto the bonfire of instability now raging in the Middle East.

It wouldn't take much for the ruling mullahs of Tehran to make even a small attack look like yet another U.S. strike against Islam, enraging Muslims worldwide.

That's not something Bush, nor Americans, can afford right now.